Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Have the Vaccine Talk

Don’t you just love it when you hear that you can do anything you want if you try hard enough? I know it’s true, because when I hear people say that, I try really hard not to assault them.

But what about when it’s not true, like when I try to act cool around my teenagers? Or when pediatricians try to convince vaccine-hesitant parents to protect their children from disease? Science has spoken, and it says, “Give up.

And talk about trying! The study’s sponsors, the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, selected doctors to receive intensive 45-minute training sessions in talking to parents about vaccine hesitancy. They followed these sessions up with written support, monthly emails, and on-call assistance. That’s not just support, it’s college-freshman-with-helicopter-parent support.

And what was the effect of all this communications training? The trained doctors were exactly as incapable as untrained controls of convincing hesitant parents to vaccinate their children. There was some drop-out from the experimental group, as one of the docs left practice to become an FBI hostage negotiator.

So now what do we do? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take the time I used to use talking about vaccines to improve my Snapchat game. Then my teenagers will definitely think I’m cool.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sex Ed Test

Do you think you can read English? Let’s try a little quiz: which of the following 8th grade human growth and development courses should I sign my son up for if I want to order him an attractive 14K gold promise ring, and which one will show him how to put a condom on a banana?

A) Stepping Stones to Better Living: Responsible Decisions
B) My Life: Choices Today for a Healthy Tomorrow
C) They make promise rings for dudes?
D) Why would a banana ever need to wear a condom?

For the answer, you, like my fellow New Hanover County parents, will have to point your browser to The problem here is that while the names both suggest that responsible decisions are better than decisions that are rash, wanton, ill-considered, random, drunken, or forced on one by a physically or socially dominant partner, only one of these family life programs has a good track record for keeping kids from prematurely developing a family life. Or from contracting any number of diseases ranging from the unpleasant to the terminal. 

Why stop at sexuality education programs that don’t fully educate about sexuality? Why not a driver’s ed class where they just watch traffic and talk about not crashing? Why not a keyboarding elective taught in cursive? I would have appreciated a PE course where we watched replays from the weekend’s games and discussed how we could have improved on the coaches' calls (I hated dressing out).

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all about abstinence, especially where my own precious kids are involved. I’m also a strong proponent of world peace. But not ensuring that my kids get comprehensive and responsible sexuality education? That’s bananas.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lies With That Shake?

When you were a kid, did you ever get the sense that the grownups in your life weren’t telling you, like, really important stuff? I think back on so many unanswered questions: “But how does Santa Clause get to all those houses in one night? Why would you ever want to go on vacation without me? Are martinis really the only way that Daddy can eat his olives?”

A new study in the journal Obesity proves that withholding the truth from children may be the key to addressing the childhood weight crisis. According to the authors, a restaurant chain called the Silver Diner (first sign of deception: not a one of their restaurants is made of actual precious metal) launched a new kids’ menu in 2012 that conveniently forgot to make any mention of “french fries,” replacing them with “strawberries” and “mixed vegetables.” It’s not that kids couldn’t order fries, they just had no way to know they were an option unless their parents slipped up and said something, presumably after having a few too many olives.

Here’s the thing: the kids were happy. They ate a measurably healthier diet, and revenues went up at Silver Diner as parents flocked to the chain to enjoy snickering behind their menus as their children snarfed "mixed vegetables." 

As a parent, not only do I wish that we had a Silver Diner around here, but I am just beginning to realize the power we might have if we all bond together in giant conspiracies: “I’m sorry, but Apple will not sell an iPhone to anyone under age 18.” “No, fighting with your brother is not on the menu, but I see here that they have hugging, playing soccer, and reading together.” “There are certain critical vitamins that dads can only obtain through olives. Now go eat your strawberries.”

Monday, February 2, 2015

Throwing the Vaccine Book

In the wake of the Disneyland Measles Epidemic of 2015, many people are calling on one of the epidemic’s chief engineers, “Dr. Bob” Sears, to retract his alarmist rhetoric on vaccines. Here’s my recommendation: back off of Dr. Bob! How is he going to turn this thing around if it looks like he’s just caving to pressure from every reputable doctor and public health advocate in the country? 

This process is like potty training: as long as you keep reminding the child to go, he’ll resist. Instead, we need to stop mentioning it and act like we don’t care if it ever happens. Then, once he can save face, I’m confident that Dr. Bob will find some way to admit that vaccines are safe and measles are dangerous. We can then give him an M&M. In case he needs a head start, I’m offering this script, but he’s welcome to make up his own stuff, as many people feel he has done before:

“There is a lot that we didn’t know when I first wrote The Vaccine Book. At that time, for example, no one had any idea that measles is among the most contagious of all human diseases. We had no clue that it kills between 1 and 3 of every 1000 people it infects and may lead to severe and irreversible brain and nerve damage up to 10 years after the infection. If only today's advanced research tools had been available to doctors working in the 1950’s, or even the 1990’s!

We have also had much more time to gather data on vaccine side effects. When I first wrote my book, I had great hopes that encouraging parents to delay or forego vaccines would lead to a race of super-healthy children to whom the scourge of autism and a bunch of other vague, poorly-conceived “risks” of vaccines would be unknown. As it turns out, these unvaccinated kids contract and spread measles and whooping cough, but otherwise they’re just like vaccinated kids, except that they have at least as high if not a higher rate of autism. Hey, it was worth a try!

Some of my colleagues accuse me of publishing The Vaccine Book because The Baby Book was already taken, and it’s all I could think of. Some say that I was looking for a way to ingratiate myself to celebrities, or at least their nannies and dog walkers, by seeming to offer a unique take on infectious diseases and the nature of the human immune system. To those people I say celebrities’ nannies are actually quite lovely, and you’ll never believe the stories I can’t share because of HIPAA.

But those issues are not important now. Being a scientist means having to say, ‘Oh, there are new, compelling data, and it appears that my theory was wrong.’ I am that scientist. So please, immunize your children completely and on schedule and, until you do, please avoid theme parks, regular parks, parking lots, parkour, Parker Posey, Park Slope, Park Avenue, Park City...pretty much any place another human might breathe in the next two hours. And don’t worry about me; I will remain in the limelight in my new job: warming up audiences for Dr. Paul Offit.”